British born Nigerian producer and recording artiste has a knack for creating hit songs, and that probably explains why he is enjoying massive success with songs like "Been Calling", "Let me Know" and "Kontrol". Josephine Mosongo met the star who spoke about his roots and critiquing his own music:
You are a producer and an artiste. Which of the two gives you more satisfaction?
It’s like you are asking me to pick a favourite child (laughs). I love the challenge that production gives me because making a hit song consistently is not easy. Anybody can make a song, but making a good song consistently, lyrically, production and melody wise... I probably enjoy that more because the artiste thing is still new.
Do you self-critique after creating a song?
Yes, I am very self-aware and I know music well, if something sounds like rubbish I will leave it on my computer, nobody is going to hear it. What I normally do is I compare my songs to other songs. I do what I call a car test, I’ll play Jay Z or Bryson Tiller or Party Next Door and then compare it to mine and see how the levels match up sound wise.
Seems like you are very hard on yourself
I have to be.
Do you identify as British or Nigerian?
I can’t run away from who I am, I was born in London, I am British but not English. But I know where my roots are. I know my roots are African and Nigerian, I’m always representing Nigeria wherever I go.
Are there things you do that make you go, that is very Nigerian of me?
I don’t know, Nigerians, we are go getters, but I think Africans are so in general.
Whenever I’m in a meeting and these label bosses are asking questions and I’m looking at them dead in the eye, sometimes I have to take a step back because they may get a little bit intimidated, but that’s just the African thing in me.
I want to know what’s going on so sometimes I have to check myself on that one.
You were a groomsman for your friend Legendary Beatz, how many times before have you been a groomsman?
Three times before that, but this was the first time I was a best man.
Where was the song 'Been Calling' shot?
We shot it in Cape Town, we went to this place called Atlantis Dunes. We had to be there about 6 in the morning and it was freezing, it was in June and that is their winter season.
We had to get up early because in the video the skies are pinkish so we had to go and catch that colour. It was intense but this is what you have to do for the art.
If you could meet those people who dislike your videos on YouTube what would you ask them?
I would ask them why. I want to know what they don’t like about it so I can go and improve.
Like I said I’m very critical and hard on myself but at the end of the day there are some people who dislike stuff just for the sake. But if it’s constructive criticism I’m always ready to listen.
Do you feel your music is making an impact especially on the African continent?
I hope so, the thing is, my friends were telling me ‘if only you knew how big you are in Africa.’ I just put my music out there and let the fans do the talking for me but from what I’m seeing it’s definitely moving in the right direction.
Will you ever go back to back to making Christian music like you did when you were starting out?
Yes, I’m putting out another EP soon, and this is the first time I’m mentioning this. After that one I will make an album and I definitely want to go deeper into my roots, my background and what makes me, me. Who knows, you might hear one or two collaborations with Kirk Franklin.
How does it feel to be 30?
It feels… most people say I don’t look it, I hope they don’t lie to me. I feel like I have such a long way to go.
I have a lot of older mentors in different walks of life not just music, these guys are like 60-65 and they are multi-millionaires and they look at me like I’m having a middle life crisis (laughs).
But they tell me there’s still so much to do. If I wasn’t doing the things I’m doing at this level I would be a bit worried or paranoid. But I can’t complain, I’m living my dream.
What’s the one precious item that you bought on sale?
I like sales, my car, I got it cheap. It’s just a BMW, nothing special.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in someone’s house?
I have a friend in London, a Nigerian girl, she’s never gone back and neither her mother, they are super westernised.
One day I walked into their sitting room where they have this bookshelf, and I was looking at it and I saw books on black magic. As soon as I saw the first one I was like, ‘yeah, we need to go now.’ I hope she was reading it for fun.
What excites you about live performances?
Just seeing people’s reactions. Every show I go to I never know what to expect, for example I’m in Kenya and I don’t know what to expect.
For all I know people could stand there and stare at me while I’m singing my heart out. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the reaction and feeling the energy from fans (he was scheduled to perform on Friday night).
Where do you feel, on social media, you have the loudest voice?
Instagram, I don’t want to get all techy but I’m a geek, but Instagram basically came and took Snapchat out of the game with those updates. The Instagram stories is a lethal weapon.
Are you always on your phone?
Is it a bad thing if I say yes? I’m always on my phone, I can’t even lie.
Is there a moment in your life that you can pinpoint that led you to music?
When I was three watching Michael Jackson and Motown and I fell in love with music and Michael Jackson. Apparently my first words were ‘Michael Jackson’, I don’t know how true that is. Ever since I saw that I knew I wanted to be in the music industry, I just didn’t know in what capacity.
Do you have a retirement plan?
Yes and no because work never stops, your job may but work never stops, your work is your passion. I want to work as long as I can.
In terms of retirement I want to start a foundation and help out youth, that’s one thing I’m passionate about.
I want to wait till I get to a certain stage so I can do it properly. I believe in mindset development and kids in Africa need to develop their minds.
I want to start a charity foundation centred on that. Hopefully I will retire a millionaire and take care of my family.
Are there times you feel like you’re being swallowed by the industry and you need some sort of balance to stay grounded?
Wow, every day. There is always someone reaching out, like ‘oh Maleek, can you jump on this song, can you write this hook for me, and can you produce this beat…’it’s always something.
When you are an artiste people expect you to be this crazy person running around to make the news and I’m the opposite. I try to stay away from any scandals and anything that’s going to make my mum call me and ask ‘what the hell are you doing?’
I’m a grown man but I still fear my mum, I respect how she looks at me. I look at the industry like a big circle and I’m out here throwing in music and taking out whatever I need.
In a perfect world, what would Berryland look like?
It would be filled with beautiful women everywhere and there would be no poverty and illness.
What’s your best friend’s nickname?
It’s ironic that my best friend is Kenyan, and he’s called Kenneth. I just call him Ken.
Do you have a nighttime ritual?
I pray before I go to sleep. Every year I write down my goals and I say them out loud before I sleep and when I wake up.
About coming to Kenya and did you Google it to try and bust any myths you had?
Like I said my best friend is Kenyan so I didn’t really need to. He gave me the low down like where to go and where not to go. It’s my first time here and I’m excited.